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Gambling reformers against NSW crackdown

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Independent State MP for Sydney, Alex Greenwich is now leading the fight to wedge the Coalition and Labour for that matter, amending the Registered Clubs Bill pending in Parliament to make cashless cards mandatory in clubs. Crawford appreciates the intention of the crossbencher, but believes that the decision cannot be rushed: “I just don’t think the technique is ready. It will take another couple of years.”

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But cashless games have a powerful enemy in ClubsNSW, whose extraordinary political and financial influence may yet see them see the light of day. As the peak body with at least 6.7 million members in more than 1,000 clubs across the state, ClubsNSW’s reach is extensive, particularly in the run-up to an election. Some clubs get more than 80 percent of their income from poker machine profits. It claims replacing the card placement machines will cost more than $800 million, resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs.

ClubsNSW used the report’s findings to back up its own narrative, which had long held that criminals did not use poker machines to launder the proceeds of crime.

“The NSW Crime Commission has found that the use of slot machines to clean up large amounts of dirt
money is “high risk and inefficient” and the practice is not widespread,” ClubsNSW chief executive Josh Landis said on Wednesday. “This report vindicates the clubs and their more than 53,000 employees across the state. This confirms that the clubs do not aid or abet money laundering.”

Organized criminals have been investing billions of dollars in the proceeds of crime through poker machines, the Crime Commission has found. But he did not find that paks were being used to launder large amounts of dirty money on a large scale, although that was happening to some extent. Criminals who pumped their money through poker machines were, for the most part, the same as any other gambler: they played for their money and lost it.

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Crawford scoffs at ClubsNSW claim of justification and “massive denial” of smallpox in its home. “It’s really disappointing. It doesn’t matter if it’s money laundering or just a waste of the proceeds of crime. All this is illegal,” he says Herald. He adds that clubs risk losing credibility over this. “Having these poker machines is a privilege, not a right. In part, they must be the authors of medicines here.”

NSW Crime Commissioner Michael Barnes said: “Good criminals pay professional middlemen to launder their money. Cryptocurrency … it’s in Turkey in three minutes. These are the people who know what they are doing.

“These mid-level drug dealers don’t have access to that. They have thousands of dollars in cash, and they don’t know where to put it.”

Independent MP Justin Field says this shows there is a deep link between gambling and organized crime and discredits the common claim by pubs and clubs that they will not help money laundering because they have nothing to gain from gambling with cash.

“This report shows that organized crime money is actually being gambled away, and the beneficiaries are places,” says Field. “It breaks down for the first time the extent to which gambling harm is a driver of criminal activity.”

“These mid-level drug dealers … (have) thousands of dollars in cash and they don’t know where to put it.”

NSW Crime Commissioner Michael Barnes

New South Wales has some of the highest poker losses in the world, with average losses per player of over $4,500. In the Republic, this figure is $2,800. Over the past three decades, players in the state have lost $135 billion to poker machines, double the amount lost by Victorians.

Prime Minister Dominique Perrotte insisted this week that he would not allow criminal activity to continue in pubs and clubs under his control. “This is not happening. So I’m going to work with the industry to fix it, and we’re going to fix it,” Perrottet said.

Since Barry O’Farrell came into government in 2011, the Coalition has agreed to enter into successive memoranda of understanding with ClubsNSW every four years. The document establishes commitments not to increase gambling taxes and to maintain existing regulatory regimes. The New South Wales Labor Party made similar commitments before the election.

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The new memorandum of understanding has not yet been signed by either the NSW government or Labor. Charles Livingstone, head of gambling research at Monash University, says the findings of the inquiry will complicate the MoU for both sides of politics.

“It’s not far from the mayor of Gotham City signing a deal with the mob,” he says.

“How can MUR exist now? We have an independent commission that is supposed to fight organized crime, releasing a report before the election saying that these guys [pubs and clubs] effectively facilitate the proceeds of crime.”

New South Wales Greens MP Kate Faermann says the MoUs are “tying the government’s hands” to prevent serious reform of poker machines.

“I think the question is, is the Crime Commission report more powerful in the eyes of Perott and Chris Means than the potential threat of a massive election campaign by ClubsNSW? What are they most afraid of? To be honest, I’m worried it’s ClubsNSW and the Australian Hotels Association,” she says.

Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann opposed the MoU.credit:Christopher Pearce

On Thursday, Minns said the findings of the investigation were troubling, but he insisted he did not want to support any recommendations, including on cashless games, until he had consulted with law enforcement. He admitted signing an agreement or memorandum with ClubsNSW could be “problematic”.

“We didn’t sign anything,” Means said. “Obviously we’ll be talking to stakeholders across the board, whether it’s in the gaming sector, whether it’s clubs, whether it’s sports associations.”

In NSW, pokies reform promises to be politically rich. But staunch politicians should only look with envy at Tasmania, Australia’s smallest state, which last month became the first jurisdiction to legislate cashless playing cards for use in hotels, clubs and casinos. The policy, which drew heavily on Dominella’s proposal for New South Wales, would see pre-set default limits of $100 a day, $500 a month and $5000 a year met. It met the guidelines of the Tasmanian Liquor and Gaming Commission and will come into effect by December 2024.

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